Last week I participated in a training course on media manipulation at the shores of lake Ohrid in beautiful Macedonia. It was an interesting inter-cultural experiment with young members of volunteer organisations from Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Germany. I think we all did a pretty good job fulfilling our national stereotypes when it came to patriotism.
Whilst the delegates of the South-Eastern-European countries presented their food, traditions, and music with some enthusiasm and pride, we four members of the German delegation could not avoid an ironic connotation when presenting our country. I found this particularly interesting given that one of us is actually from China, one from Belarus and one has Turkish parents. And as much as I like the ironic self-image of young Germans, I realised once more my growing sympathy for the (non-arrogant) patriotism from the other countries. Each county has particularly likeable aspects, why not embracing them when you know them well? This seems to me no contradiction to the idea of world-citizenship, it is important to have self-respecting individuals in a group that is respecting all its members. In any case, nothing prevented us of having a good time together.
But now to media manipulation. I applied for this training in hope for input for both major projects I am trying to push for at the moment. We need qualified and engaged volunteers for ESF International (the international framework organisation of Studies Without Borders). And it’s going to be a great challenge to mobilize young people from around the world to join the collective campaigns of the FAIR Future Network (more very soon…).
So what were the major insights on this? Besides learning about the strongly politicised and manipulated media in Macedonia (“it might soon turn into a de facto one-party state”), besides many small usefull ideas, tipps and feedback, I really appreciated the tips on campaigning and working with traditional media. Make your message as clear and simple as possible – the media will make many versions out of it anyway. Communicate it in the first 30 seconds of radio and TV interviews – this is as long as people will listen to your contents. This seems quite obvious, but still get this explicitly clear.
So people- and contentwise I liked the training. But another point kept coming up to my mind: There seems to be a silent consensus that manipulative techniques are justified when it comes to the promotion of volunteering for a “good” cause. Given that we are competing with advertisement campaigns of profit seeking companies this may be valid to some extent. But I wonder if we do not actually abuse the attractiveness and “morality” of our causes to drag people all the more into the manipulation-susceptible, self-presenting mindset that the omnipresence of (social) media brings with it. Is it really more important to attract than to provide well-founded content? After all, KISS – keep it short and simple – may also mean “don’t explain and don’t reflect too much…”